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What Is the Best Local Advertising for Small Businesses?: Part 1

Jeff Duff has college degrees in English, psychology and safety management. He has spent 16 years as a local radio advertising consultant.

This sad situation is what media advertising companies want to help you to avoid. (For a fee, of course.)

This sad situation is what media advertising companies want to help you to avoid. (For a fee, of course.)

What is the Best Local Advertising for Small Business?

What is the Best Local Advertising for Small Business? You might as well ask, what is the best way to serve eggs for breakfast? How about, what is the best song ever written by the Beatles? What is the best automobile ever made?

There are dozens - even hundreds - of best answers for all of these topics! But, we can narrow down the best local advertising for small businesses (and professional practices) a lot easier than agreeing on the very best Beatles song ... or the very best automobile ... ever made.

First, there are simply a lot fewer choices for local advertising.

Newspaper advertising has been around since 1468, but this enticing newspaper advertisement dates from the early years of the 1900s.

Newspaper advertising has been around since 1468, but this enticing newspaper advertisement dates from the early years of the 1900s.

Local Business Advertising should Stay Local

The majority of your small businesses' customers come from your local area. If the majority of your customers come from all over your region, state, province or nation, then your business is - strictly speaking - NOT a LOCAL business! Generally, a local small business or professional practice serves an area of 5 to 15 miles in diameter. To put it another way: the overwhelming majority of your local small business customers or clients will live within your city limits, or within the borders of your local school district, or within the boundaries of one to three counties or parishes. If the majority (51% or more) of your businesses' clients or customers live within the borders of four or more counties or parishes - or an entire state, province or nation - then yours' is not a LOCAL small-sized business, but actually more of a REGIONAL medium-sized (or even a NATIONAL large-sized) business or professional practice.

Advertising is expensive as it is: DON'T ADVERTISE REGIONALLY OR NATIONALLY, IF MOST OF YOUR BUSINESS WILL BE COMING FROM LOCAL CUSTOMERS! For example, I recently heard a radio commercial from a Dubuque, Iowa bakery on a high-power (and high-priced) regional radio station. This baker over-paid for a huge broadcast area, but realistically, how many customers will he get from all over a 20-county, 3-state area? To put it another way, how many other local bakeries will customers have to drive by, in order to patronize this one particular bakery in downtown Dubuque?

A Quick Overview of 'Free Advertising' Options

There are a few 'free advertising' options for small business and professional practice owners and managers. None of them are very effective, but you didn't pay anything for them, either:

(1) BULLETIN / ANNOUNCEMENT BOARDS - Typically found near the entrances or the bathrooms of grocery stores, drug stores, convenience stores, thrift shops and, occasionally, in a relatively few banks and credit unions. These are usually cork or wooden boards and have many pinned community notices, home business ads, Avon distributor cards, small independent church notices, male virility potions, etc. Not only will few people see your advertising card or sheet on such a busy Bulletin Board, but your advertisement is probably going to be judged by the 'company it keeps'. Only truly low-budget businesses use these venues, so ...

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(2) WORD-OF-MOUTH: Many business people say that 'Word-of-Mouth Advertising' (local people talking to other local people about your business, service or practice) is their favorite form of advertising! Why not, it's free and it comes from a (presumably) trustworthy source! The problems with Word-of-Mouth advertising are several: You can't control it, it's not always positive (and some customers can be impossible to please) and your marketing messages can be garbled or confused by the retelling, even from honest customers. The other big problem is that you can't accelerate Word-of-Mouth just when you most need it: when customer traffic and sales slow down.

(3) FACEBOOK and OTHER DIGITAL MEDIA: Most of these websites have a fee for business advertising and notices, but if you can figure out how to get marketing value from these sites for free, more power to you! Posting your business advertisement on Craigslist is almost useless ... but it might be worth trying once or twice, I guess.

(4) SIGNAGE - Last, but certainly not least, is external and internal retail (or office) signage. After the initial cost of the product, business signs can last for years and they are a great way to draw nearby customers into your small business or professional practice. Do NOT be cheap with your external signage - get as good as you can afford - as it will pay you dividends for 5, 10, even 20 years into the future (if properly maintained). Your outside signage could pay for itself in mere weeks - maybe even mere days! Remember, many potential customers, clients or patients will judge your business enterprise by the quality and attractiveness of your external and internal signs.

Old newspaper advertisement for the 1905 Studebaker Electric Automobile.  (Notice how well newspapers can communicate a lot of detail to potential customers.)

Old newspaper advertisement for the 1905 Studebaker Electric Automobile. (Notice how well newspapers can communicate a lot of detail to potential customers.)

Advantages and Disadvantages of Local Newspaper Advertising

Beginning with the first newspaper advertisements in 1486, local newspapers were very profitable enterprises for their owners until about 1995 or 2000, when both readership and advertising revenue both began to slip. The internet has been the newspapers' kryptonite (as it were), especially since about 2000. The devolution of local newspapers has continued since 2000, pretty much every year until the present. Today, local newspaper advertising shapes up like this:

ADVANTAGES: (1) No local advertising media can convey complicated or detailed information like newspaper advertising. (For example, look at the Studebaker advertisement above.) Detailed information that would be difficult to communicate on radio or television - and impossible on roadside billboard advertising! - does pretty well in newspapers. (2) Newspaper advertising allows newspaper readers to return to read the same ad, day after day, if they want. (3) Using coupons in advertising does best in newspapers, because the coupons can be cut outby readers and carried to the business for redemption.

DISADVANTAGES: (1) This can be important to certain advertisers: The median age of newspaper readers is approximately 58-years old. (This means that half of their readers over 58 years of age and half are under 58.) This makes local newspapers a great place to reach senior citizens, but a poor place to reach children, teens and twenty-somethings. Consider carefully, the customer age groups your business or practice really wants to reach. (2) Subscribership and readership of local newspapers continues fall, primarily due to heavy internet and video game usage. (3) As of 2020, average American media usage per day is pretty minimal for print media, such newspapers and magazines. According to the statistical storage website called Statista, the average American adult read newspapers just 9 minutes per day in 2020 (and print magazines are read just 8 minutes per day, in 2020!).

So, newspapers are a good place to advertise if you are trying to reach middle-aged and older Americans ... or if your business specializes in really complicated products or services ... or if your business has a relatively complex and fast-changing inventory (such as used car dealers and real estate brokers).


This has been Part 1 of "What is the Best Local Advertising for Small Businesses?". In Part 2, I discuss and review billboard advertising, radio advertising and television advertising for local small businesses. Jump over to: What is the Best Local Advertising for Small Businesses? Part 2. If you want to dig into radio advertising deeper, click over to my article on radio advertising design and writing: Why You Should Make Your Own Radio Commercials. Enjoy these articles and please mention them to your friends!

© 2021 Jeffrey Duff

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